Inside Antonia and Sasa Basic's edible garden in Canberra

Antonia Basic and the couple's Canberra honesty box.
Antonia Basic and the couple's Canberra honesty box. Photo: Jay Cronan

Agronomist Sasa Basic arrived in Canberra from Croatia in March 2014 and his wife Antonia Basic came here with their three-year-old daughter and her teenage daughter three months later.

They migrated to Canberra from the seaside city of Rijeka. At the time, the ACT was giving visa sponsorships for travel agents, the field in which Antonia was working.

Sasa Basic is a Master of Plant Sciences specialising in broad acre crops. He has not yet found work in his field in Canberra so, since last July in their newly rented home in Canberra, he has created a garden of edibles. His studies had led him to unconventional methods of growing food, such as organic farming, permaculture and biodynamics.

Sasa Basic
Sasa Basic Photo: Jay Cronan

Antonia had been a tour guide for a decade, often visiting countryside homes where people offered their healthy homegrown and homemade produce, such as olives, dried herbs, fruits and vegetables mostly grown from old varieties. In the past seven years that the couple has been together, they have always had an organic garden.

Their neighbours in Hackett helped the family by sharing their compost to start soil improvement. The Basics mixed it with sheep manure, constantly use mulch and are now making their own compost. Their excellent summer produce included ox heart tomatoes, of which they had a large surplus. With the permission of the property's owner, the produce was placed on a children's stall with an honesty box in the front garden.

Neighbours brought vegetables and seedlings to the stall, which continues on a Saturday morning as a hobby. Supplies include spinach, salad greens, flowers, honey, fresh and dried herbs, and pumpkins. Lots of neighbours came to meet, chat and bring produce to share. "It is a way for us to present ourselves to the community," Antonia says.

Antonia Basic
Antonia Basic Photo: Jay Cronan

Last month, the Basics went to Loriendale orchard hoping to develop links with local organic, sustainable farmers. Contributor to Food & Wine, Owen Pidgeon, owner of Loriendale, supplied them with organic apples and pears then contacted me to suggest I visit their garden.

Sasa's neat rows of edibles included Sri Lankan onions, the original plants shared by a neighbour, carrots, Dalmatian cabbage, or collard greens, and herbs. All their plants are raised from seed received from friends, neighbours and an organic health store. As a 'helping hand' in the garden, the couple puts crystals in different positions on the garden beds for soil harmony and balance. They use clear quartz, amethyst, agate and rose quartz. They are both also practitioners of Reiki healing.

Antonia does most of the cooking, usually vegan dishes from the Dalmatian/Croatian coast. She uses lots of herbs, including bay leaf, basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano, with olive oil. In autumn and winter, most popular are stews and soups, particularly using Dalmatian cabbage. It has a specific flavour that she likes to combine with other greens in a vegetarian version of a stew known as zelena menestra. The collard greens are also stir-fried with olive oil and tamari sauce and eaten at least once a week for their health benefits.

Canberra Times photographer Jay Cronan and I were served Antonia's delicious stew (you can follow her Facebook link: Canberra Magic Kitchen).

As soon as the couple has permission from ACT Health to cook in a commercial kitchen, these treats will be available for all Canberrans.

Next week in Kitchen Garden we will share her Cauldron of Possibilities, a risotto dish made from sunflower seeds. She also made a spiced cake loaf using whole Loriendale pears, spelt and besan flour, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.

Antonia and Sasa Basic's pear cake.
Antonia and Sasa Basic's pear cake. Photo: Jay Cronan

Cauldron of Magic (variation of Dalmatian green stew)

Olive oil to cover the bottom of the stockpot

clove of garlic

Food and Wine Antonia and Sasa Basic's home made Cauldron of Possibilty.
Food and Wine Antonia and Sasa Basic's home made Cauldron of Possibilty. Photo: Jay Cronan

2 medium onions or 1 large

pinch salt

3-4 bay leaves

pinch of ground ginger

1 tsp caraway seeds

3 medium carrots

½ tsp ground smoked paprika (or more if you like)

bunch of collard green cabbage

few leaves of red cabbage and turnip leaves

few leaves of kale

2 cups black beans (previously soaked, overnight if possible)

2-3 medium sized potatoes

1 tbsp nutritional yeast

8-10 cups (2 litres) water (if you have vegetable broth, put half water and then add remaining amount of vegetable stock)

Put olive oil in a large stockpot. Add finely diced onion. Stir to coat and cook over medium heat until translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic, salt, smoked paprika, caraway seeds, bay leaf, oregano, basil and cook for two minutes. Add carrot sliced into small pieces and stir for another two minutes. Add a little water if necessary (to avoid burning vegetables). Add 1.5-2 litres of water and black beans. Bring to a simmer and cook 15-20 minutes. Then add chopped collard greens, red cabbage, kale, and turnip leaves. Cook for 5-10 minutes and add potatoes, cut into small pieces. Cook for another 10 minutes or until potatoes and beans are ready. Add salt if needed and nutritional yeast and stir well. Leave stew to cool down to absorb all tastes.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer